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State-Based Health Insurance Exchange Bill Passes The Idaho Legislature, Heads To Governor

Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact

Idaho lawmakers fundamentally opposed to the federal health care law made a final effort to convince their colleagues to reject a state-based health insurance exchange, but to no avail. The bill which will create a state-based online insurance marketplace passed the Senate 23-12, sending the measure to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter who is sure to sign it into law.

In a statement released shortly after the vote, Gov. Otter praised the Legislature for their work on passing his plan.

“I know this wasn’t easy, not for the Legislature and not for me. Nonetheless, I appreciate the civility and quality of debate that’s taken place on this issue in both the House and Senate,” Otter said.

The governor added that the passage of the health insurance exchange bill will enable him to do what he believes is right for Idahoans. “Of course we share strong objections to Obamacare, but as responsible elected officials we also are committed to constructively working together for the best possible outcomes for Idaho,” said Otter. “I’m grateful for that collaboration.”

Senators who debated against the bill include Russ Fulcher (R-Meridian), Sheryl Nuxoll (R-Cottonwood), Bob Nonini (R-Coeur d’Alene), Steve Vick (R-Dalton Gardens), and Monty Pearce (R-New Plymouth). Each took turns reiterating their disdain for the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Most said a vote in favor of a state-based health exchange is a vote in favor of the federal law.

Sen. Nonini said he put on the darkest clothes he could find today because passing the exchange bill is like mourning. “I believe this is a dark day for Idaho,” Sen. Nonini said. “This is a dark day in this building. I’m just so frustrated by this. I feel like I’m in mourning. We’re losing something here this morning. We are losing our freedom. We are giving up our sovereignty to the federal government.”

Idaho lawmakers have been debating the merits of a state-based health insurance exchange since 2010 when it became clear an exchange would be a key part of the federal health care law. It wasn’t until December 2012 that Gov. Otter put his support behind a state-run online insurance marketplace, this after the federal law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and President Barack Obama won re-election, ensuring the law would stay in place.

The governor has submitted Idaho’s insurance exchange plans to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but approval is required by the Legislature. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Idaho is one of 18 states that have committed to building a state-based exchange. Seven states are planning a state-federal partnership exchange, and 26 states will default to a federal-run exchange.

Idaho’s exchange must be up and running by January 2014. It will be managed by a 19-member board, including three legislators. It’s estimated the initial cost of creating the exchange will be between $20-$30 million, paid for by federal grants. The governor’s office estimates the annual cost to maintain the marketplace will be $10 million, paid for by fees on users.

It’s unclear exactly how many Idahoans might use the health exchange. The governor’s office says 278,800 Idahoans don’t have health insurance. That’s just under 20 percent of the population.

Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill (R-Rexburg) voted in favor of the state-based exchange. He told his colleagues those against the exchange “don’t hate Obamacare any more than the rest of us in the majority party.”

“There aren’t any good guys or bad guys in this,” Hill continued. “We all love our country and our state. We all revere our Constitution. We all seek to defend freedom, choice and accountability. We all want to do the right thing. Many will criticize your choice here today, either way you vote, because the choices we have stink.”

Correction: We originally reported Sen. Jim Rice (R-Caldwell) debated against the bill, that is inaccurate. Rice voted in favor of the health insurance exchange.


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